BEMIDJI, Minn. -- While everyone in the room presumably understood the importance of school safety, the message resonated with Missy Dodds on a deeper level than most. So much so, in fact, that she had tears in her eyes by the time she left the training session at Bemidji High School on Wednesday.
“Happy tears... they were happy tears,” she quickly clarified.
As someone who was at ground zero for the mass shooting at Red Lake High School in 2005, she knows all too well the importance of keeping schools safe. At the time, Dodds was a teacher at the school and nearly died at the hands of the 16-year-old shooter.
Dodds, who now lives in Bemidji, is now an advocate with the organization Safe and Sound Schools, which encourages parents to take part in school safety issues. The advocacy organization was founded in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting.
So on Wednesday, Dodds was one of dozens of educators, administrators, advocates and law enforcement personnel who gathered at Bemidji High School for the training session. The training was conducted by the Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools Technical Assistance Center. The U.S. Department of Education administers the training organization, which works with schools to help increase their safety.
Bemidji Area Schools Superintendent Tim Lutz said the training prepares schools for all kinds of emergencies. It could be a mass shooter, or it could be a fire. Depending on the school, it could even be something such as a train derailment. REMS helps build a plan around each school’s circumstances.
“This is developing an emergency operations plan that takes an all-hazards approach; we look at all potential hazards, and we tailor them to our schools,” Lutz said.
He said it not only helps school officials learn how to deal with emergencies when they occur, but it also strives to prevent those emergencies from happening in the first place.
Dodds was one of the driving forces that brought the training group to Bemidji. Wednesday’s training was the first time REMS came to Minnesota, Dodds said. She came across the organization during a training in Bismarck.
Lutz said they likely will have follow-up meetings to help integrate the training into the district’s plans. Dodds also hinted that there is more work to do, although she clarified that they have a good foundation on which to do so.
“What REMS was able to do was come in today and give us a good start,” Dodds said, adding that the training strives to incorporate people from outside the school as well. “By all of us working together as a community, that’s going to add more layers of safety and allow us to see problems from different angles.”
REMS officials declined to comment about the workshop.
Dodds is still dealing with the trauma from the Red Lake School shooting. Ten people died that day, and Dodds was a breath away from becoming the 11th.
The shooter, Jeff Weise, was a 16-year-old student of the high school. A 2015 Minnesota Public Radio story on the 10-year-anniversary of the shooting tells how Weise made his way to Dodd's classroom, pointed his gun at her head and pulled the trigger. The gun clicked, but didn’t fire. The gun did fire shortly thereafter, though, when Weise turned it on himself.
Dodds loved teaching. She loves school. She wants her own children to enjoy their own experiences with it. Nonetheless, her heart still skips a beat whenever she drops them off for the day at school.
But Dodds is working to make things better, despite the fact that it can be difficult to face the possibility that another tragedy could happen in another school. Through her advocacy, she’s trying to make sure no one has to live through the things she has.
“I know what a bad day is like,” Dodds said. “Things still keep happening. And, it’s hard. But, I just have to take a deep breath and say a prayer.”